Between the Lines

Is Booker the one?

Bernie Sanders’ announcement of his candidacy for president in 2020 may put Hudson County Democrats in something of a bind.

Sanders was seen as the runner up to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic Primary. But Hudson County Democrats were united for Clinton from the start.

While it is way too early to talk about front runners, the fact that Cory Booker, one of two U.S senators from New Jersey, is also running will require some hard choices.

Sanders has redefined some of the Democrat Party’s core progressive values, which may make him a very attractive candidate in places like Hoboken and Jersey City, with their own progressive roots. But Booker is local, and someone that local Democrats may feel obligated to support.

On the other hand, Booker is not Clinton. So local Democrats may face the same issues in selecting someone to support as Democrats on the national stage.

While Clinton is toying with the idea of running again, she will not likely get the overwhelming local support she had in 2016, and could end up in a dog fight with Booker similar to the one she faced in 2008 when she faced off against Barak Obama. In that conflict, then Councilman Steven Fulop led a progressive movement to support Clinton, while then Mayor Jerramiah Healy (an old school politician) supported Obama.

Most likely, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez will weigh in on the matter and push to get local Democrats to support Booker. But Menendez was also behind Clinton in 2008 and could not stop the county’s Democrats from becoming divided.

And it is possible with so many candidates already declared, and a batch more Democrats expected to leap in, neither Clinton nor Booker will survive by the time New Jersey holds its primary.

And unlike the past, Clinton will not be able to rely on solid support from women with prominent female candidates such Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren running.

Hudson County Democrats could also choose to support former Vice President Joe Biden if he decides to run.

Biden represents the center of the Democratic Party at a time when the party has shifted left, and while he would most likely get the support of some tried and true old school Democrats in Hudson County, he will not have the appeal of a progressive like Sanders a county that has become increasingly more progressive.

Deciding on which candidate to support will be one of the biggest challenges for Amy DeGise, who is considered a progressive, but is chairperson of a party that has significant old school membership. Her decision may well determine if Hudson County Democrats will form a united front as in 2016, or get split as they were in 2008.

Fulop has the money edge for mayor

Fulop has already said he will run for reelection in 2021. With $900,000 already in his campaign war chest and internal polls that suggest he still has a 70 percent approval rating, he may be hard to beat.

Those reading the political tea leaves believe Amy DeGise’s recent decision to step down from the Jersey City Board of Education was her first step towards running against Fulop. If so, she’ll need the next two years to play catch up.

Normally, Fulop as a sitting mayor would have the advantage. Even with pay to play laws that put limits on what vendors to the city can contribute to a candidate, many would support Fulop to get in his good favor. This also includes the hundreds if not thousands of city employees who also might feel obligated to donate to their boss in city hall.

But this advantage may be offset by the fact that Amy DeGise’s father, Tom DeGise, is county executive, with nearly as many loyal employees and vendors seeking to earn his gratitude, especially with the political clout of state Senator and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco on his side.

The two state senators whose districts split Jersey City – Sandra Cunningham and Brian Stack – may or may not support Fulop.

Critics of Fulop believe his poll numbers are fragile, based on false assumptions such as his ability to keep his core progressive vote. These critics believe that if Amy DeGise decides to run, she will be able to attract many of the progressives that got Fulop elected and reelected in the past. She will also be able to draw on old school Democrats whose organization she heads.

Hoboken is a free for all

With Hoboken ward council seats up in November, the rhetoric has increased on every level.

Hoboken strongly resembles one of those unstable European governments where power relies on the building of loose coalitions, and allies aren’t really tried and true friends, but friends of convenience.

Mayor Ravi Bhalla is seeking to build a coalition that will allow him to gain the kind of control of the city council as his predecessor Dawn Zimmer had.

But the nearer we get to the election and the louder the voices get in various conflicts, the less likely it looks like Bhalla will get his wishes.

With council members Tiffanie Fisher, Peter Cunningham, and Jen Giattino forming one faction, and Michael DeFusco and Ruben Ramos, another, Bhalla has been relying on newly acquired allies such as Councilman Michael Russo along with council members aligned with the mayor.

This could change dramatically after the November election.

But at the same time, there are those who believe some of his opposition may be vulnerable, such as Giattino, and maybe even DeFusco.

If so, then Bhalla may well be able to do what many see as unthinkable, and gain a voting control on the council after all.

Al Sullivan can be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com